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Song From The Big House

The scent of woodsmoke clings to me

Like a spirit not ready to let go of this world

Not from fear but out of love

Holding on to memories that reverberate

To the beat of the round drum

And the stamp of bare feet on a dirt floor

In a place that echoes the past into the present

Where dances are sacramental offerings

Shared with ghosts who linger in the dust

Raised by each footfall

Even though we applaud we know this isn’t a performance

But a moment to let spirits intermingle

Bathed in smoke that permeates our souls

Dusted with earth that has witnessed degradation and despair

Seen attempts at genocide collide with patient persistence

Until old songs are given new voice

And old voices are heard with new understanding

To the beat of ancestral hearts witnessing truth

In the flicker of flames that never died out

That burn on into the tomorrow of today

 

 

David Trudel   ©  2013

 

 

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The Star Maidens

Chapter Two

 

“Oh Starlight,” exclaimed Falling Star, “that was so much fun! I’m exhausted but it was as if we were in some kind of battle, and then it was like we were flying over the water.”  “I know, I felt it too!” replied Starlight.  They talked for a while about each other’s family, and what had been going on with them, since it seemed like the people of both villages were all related one way or another to each other.  Falling Star’s little sister, Raven, had fallen out of a tree and broken her arm, but Falling Star had managed to help her back to the longhouse, and had helped her aunt to set and bind the break.  Starlight exclaimed in sympathy as the story unfolded.

 

They paddled along the waterway, admiring the broad silvery pathway that led the way through the forested banks.  “Falling Star, I have some pretty big news myself.  I was visited by the moon spirit three weeks ago and had my ceremonial sweat in the woman’s lodge!” “Starlight, that’s wonderful!  Congratulations! That means we’re both women now!” exclaimed her friend, who had gone through the same rite of passage a few moons earlier.  “I think that’s why my grannie and your auntie allowed us to go harvesting together, we are getting pretty grown up now” continued Starlight.  “Yes, but you know what that means don’t you?” countered Falling Star.  “No, what do you mean?” said Starlight.  Falling Star continued, “Why, now they’ll want to marry us off, and I don’t know about you but all the boys around here are so, well, dull.  They never do anything really exciting, like in those stories the elders tell around the fire.”  “Now that you mention it” said Starlight, “I haven’t been much impressed either.  Most of the boys I know are just boastful and arrogant, who push each other around and fight a lot.  And they make all those disgusting noises!”  “Hahaha”, laughed Falling Star.  “You’ve got that right!  And what about the smell!” she continued, which made them both laugh some more.

 

By now, they had swung around the last corner and the rapidly emptying tidal inlet spread out in front of them.  Starlight shielded her eyes from the sun and saw the channel she was looking for. “Over there, Falling Star, over there” she said, pointing out the deeper water that marked the course of the creek that fed into the inlet.  Eerily, the water around them continued to drop and the mud flats emerged around them.  By sticking to the creek, they managed to traverse the last hundred paddle strokes and reach their destination, which was a little beach near the mouth of the creek.  They ran the canoe up onto the bank and jumped out, hauling the canoe up as far as they could.  Then they took the cedar plaited rope out from the bow of the canoe and fastened it to a tree.  After securing the canoe they prepared their camp not too far away, making sure to cache their food high overhead.   They knew they’d be tired when they finished their work so they took a few moments to gather some firewood and made sure that the slumbering coal was still glowing.  Then they each took about half of the baskets they had brought, and their cutting tools, and set off on the trail that led through the fringe of trees that marked the creek, to the start of the expansive meadow they had come to harvest.  The camas bloom was over but the regal purple flowers were still a sight to see, even if they were drying up in the summer heat.  They fell to with the same hardworking spirit they had shown during the race with the tide.  As they worked, they amused each other by making up verses to the harvesting song they were singing.  After a while, the verses started to get stuck on certain male body parts, and pretending to be cutting them off like they were doing with the camas, which was funny at first but soon left them both a little embarrassed.  “Gee, Falling Star, we were making fun of the boys for being as crude as they are, and now we’ve been doing the same thing pretty much.” “I know” she replied somewhat abashedly, “and we are supposed to be training to be healers.  Let’s get back to work.”  On and on they went, filling basket after basket with the precious morsels.  Soon they had beaten a well-worn path back to the camp. As the long day finally surrendered to dusk and twilight, the girls brought in their last baskets of the day’s harvest.  They took the basket with the coal over to their firepit and placed it carefully in the middle.  Carefully, but with the assurance of experience they built the fire up into a cheery blaze.  They shared each other’s food, and relaxed together after their long day.  “That was awesome Starlight” said Falling Star, “I am tired but I had so much fun today and look at what we accomplished.  All those baskets filled, all by ourselves!”

 

David Trudel    © 2012

 

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The Star Maidens

Chapter One

 

Falling Star got up earlier than usual from her pallet in the great longhouse she shared with the rest of the Eagle Clan. She was brimming with excitement and hurried to complete her preparations for the camas harvesting expedition she was going on.  All the other women were also rousing themselves and getting up.  They were going to be spending the next two days on the annual camas harvesting, now that the camas flowers had done to seed.  The harvesting was done by pairs or small groups of women, who would fan out across the great, rolling meadows that surrounded their territory.  Dotted with the characteristic oak trees that co-exist in camas meadows, the ground was occasionally broken by rocky up-thrusts of the shallow bedrock.  In the meadows, the women would harvest the camas by uprooting the plants and slicing off the precious bulbs, stowing them in the cedar-plaited baskets worn on their backs.

 

This was the first time that Falling Star wasn’t going to just be accompanying her mother or her aunts, and she felt almost grown up with the responsibility.  Plus, she’d have two whole days with her best friend, Starlight, who lived in the neighboring village.  Starlight was also a member of the Eagle Clan, and they were both being trained as healers, since the two of them came from a long line of shamans and medicine women.  As much as she liked learning all about the ways to heal sicknesses and bind wounds, Falling Star also enjoyed the simple, laborious task of gathering camas bulbs.

 

She packed up her supply of baskets, along with some food for a couple of days; smoked salmon, oolichans and bright red huckleberries.  She had her cutting knife that she’d be using in the camas meadows, and a few other more general purpose implements, a sleeping roll, and for fire, a slate lined basket that contained a glowing coal that was nesting on the center of some damp moss.  Falling Star loaded everything into the canoe she had been told to use. She pushed off from the gently sloping beach and guided her small craft out of the bay and into the sheltered harbor. Paddling up into the harbor reaches, past the rocky crags she admired how the smooth red trunks of the arbutus trees stood out in marked contrast to the deep shiny green of their leaves. Staying close to shore, she soon saw her friend, Starlight, who was making her way to the small, pebbly beach that was their meeting place.  Falling Star expertly brought the canoe in, just barely grounding it on the beach so that Starlight could load her things without getting wet. The two girls greeted each other excitedly, talking over each others’ sentences, which caused them to break into peals of laughter. “Oh Starlight, it’s so good to see you, again! This is going to be fun!”  “I know, Falling Star, ever since my grandmother gave her permission, I’ve been looking forward to it.  And no more memorizing and lessons for the next couple of days!” said Starlight in return.

 

Starlight got everything stowed away and took her place at the bow, after giving the canoe a hearty push and swinging her lithe young body into the craft.  She had brought her own paddle, of course, and was soon settling into a good steady rhythm that worked for both of them.  She turned her head around, and said, “Let’s pick up the pace so we can get through the Cammusack narrows before the tide turns.  Otherwise we’ll have to wait.” Falling Star didn’t need much encouragement, since she didn’t want to get stuck on the wrong side of the reversing falls either.  The place was mysterious and full of strange magic and they both wanted to get through it quickly.  It was the spot where the harbor tightened down to a narrow passageway, beyond which lay the more expansive waterway, leading to the upper reaches of Portage Inlet, where they were headed.  When the tide turned, the water surged through the gap, creating a waterfall effect that was too strong for even the mightiest warriors to paddle through.  The girls starting singing a paddling song and the canoe darted forward as if it had wings.  Falling Star guided them into the center of the flow, just as they felt the almost imperceptible shift of the water, so close beneath their thighs.  “Come on”, she yelled, “Give it everything you’ve got!” Both girls were really digging in on each stroke, keeping up the momentum as best they could.  But with each stroke, the force of the water grew more and more intense and the canoe started to slow down.  It was as if invisible fingers were reaching up through the cold grey water to grab the canoe.  Starlight managed to find an untapped reserve of strength and started to pick up her rhythm a little, which sparked the competitive urge in Falling Star to do the same.  Slowly, they began to pick up speed and gain back the momentum they had lost.  With a final mighty effort they suddenly broke through the narrows, with a spurt of speed that really did make it feel like they were flying, or at least about to lift off the water like the geese and swans that scattered before them.  The girls whooped in glee as they realized they had won the race with the rising tide.  Now that they were able to relax, they began to talk, picking up a conversation that had been dropped some two moons ago, when they had last spent any time together.

 

 

David Trudel    © 2012

 

 

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